“Unlicensed VoIP operators like Viber and Nimbuzz use telecoms networks to deliver their services, but they do not pay any money for the privilege. This unauthorized activity puts enormous pressures on bandwidth — which means customers’ data usage experience is negatively impacted as a result. As such, Digicel has been forced to take firm action to prevent this parasitic activity.”
Excerpt from a Press Release issues by Digicel on their Decision to block VoIP Apps in Jamaica
On Sunday June 29th 2014, two (2) days before the start of Summer 2014 for many Jamaicans, the unthinkable happened: Digicel decided to put their foot down, blocking VoIP App Viber and Nimbuzz from terminating Voice Calls and SMS (Short Messaging Service) aka Text Messages on their Network….. in Haiti . Yes Haiti….’cause that’s where it all started first, if you’ve been following the timeline of Events relating to these Unfortunate Series of Events, Lemony Snickett Style!
Their statement above makes it clear as to why they took action, which came with the threat of similar action in Jamaica, as per the Sunday Gleaner article on that very same day on the very same issue. By Monday June 30th 2014, one day before the official start of Summer 2014 on Tuesday July 1st 2014, Digicel made good on their threat and blocked the termination of VoIP Calls from that dubious duo, Viber and Nimbuzz as chronicled in Kelroy’s article Digicel blocks “unlicensed” Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services.
VoIP and Network Integrity – IPRAN Network being Taxed heavily by exCessive Data Traffic
By Wednesday July 2nd 2014, LIME had also followed their partner in crime, blocking VoIP Apps Viber and Nimbuzz as well, ostensibly for the very same reasons; VoIP Calling was taxing their bandwidth, making it difficult for them to provide reliable Voice Services. Very true, as albeit Voice Calls usually occupy only 2 GSM Voice channels at 64Kbps, one to Transmit and one to Receive, a 3G or 4G connection to a cellphone utilizes a large bandwidth.
That’s ok as long as a Telecom Provider has provisioned enough all three sectors, Alpha, Beta and Gamma on Cell Towers in a particular area with the Ericsson BBU (Base Band Units) to set up 3G Data Connections. But if a Tower is being overwhelmed by people using the 3G service continuously to make VoIP Calls, it can easily make it difficult for users of the GSM Voice Network a particular Sector on a particular Cell Site.
Fail-safes are built in Ericsson’s BBU at a Cell site to deny the termination of more Data Connections to a Sector, in much the same way in the IT World, a DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack can be thwarted by closing off the remaining Data Channels. However, those already connected to such a Cell site where all three Sectors are overwhelmed with Data Connections wil contnue to be able to make calls.
This will result in the Backhaul Network, which in the case of Digicel and LIME is an IPRAN (Internet Protocol Radio Access Network) build on Ericsson Marconi Microwave Radios housed inside of their (Radio Base Stations) to start prioritizing Data Traffic over Voice Traffic.
At that point, the T1 Channels or Tribs (short for Tributaries) as Radio Network Technicians refer to each Multiplexed Channel used, will begin to be reassigned to carry more of the increasing Data Traffic and less of the Voice Traffic, albeit technically at the Tributary Level in a Microwave Radio, they’re really the same thing. This can be done, as albeit they are physical wiring out in the Field, their assignments can be changed remotely via Remote Login by Network Engineers to the Microwave Radio over the IPRAN.
Potatoe, Potatoe! Digicel is merely a victim of its own popularity, as it’s been selling record numbers of DL600 and DL700 smartphones prices at sub-JA$7950 plus Tax prices since December 2013. This crush of Traffic was bound to happen, especially as they didn’t thoroughly upgrade their Network to handle all that Traffic.
However, what wasn’t mentioned by the Telecom Providers was the real reason; Loss of Local International Calling Revenue as Jamaicans opted to make Calls over VoIP instead of using Regular Phone Credit or even International Calling Plans as described in How to set up an International Calling Plan for Digicel or LIME Prepaid and Postpaid.
After all, technical arguments aside, it’s all about the Benjamins Baby!
Viber vs Digicel – Telecom Providers within their right to block VoIP
Good to note here that this fight by Telecom Providers isn’t isolated to Jamaica alone, despite the many letters to the Editor by “concerned individuals” literally burning torches against Digicel and LIME.
Other Telecom Providers the World over have begun to put up resistance against VoIP including O2 in the United Kingdom, Vodafone in Germany, T-Mobile in Germany, and Docomo in Japan according to Digicel. Plus under Jamaica’s Telecommunications Act of 2000 and the recently amended Telecommunications Act of 2012, Jamaican Telecom Providers and other based on their Telecommunications Legislation in their respective jurisdictions perfectly within their right to do so, as these VoIP Providers aren’t licensed to operate in Jamaica and have no Voice Termination Contracts with either LIME or Digicel to Terminate Voice Calls.
Additionally, the Telecommunications Act of 2012 gives Telecoms Providers the right to block any activity on their Networks that’s perceived as Bypass.
Under the Telecommunications Act of 2012, Bypass can be interpreted to be Outbound Connections, be it Voice or Data from their Local Network(s) to foreign Networks or inbound Connections, be it Voice or Data from foreign Networks terminating on your Local Network(s) where callers use a Third Party Telecom Network to avoid paying for Calls or Call Termination Tariffs as stipulated by the Local Telecom Provider upon which the Calls are being terminated.
Unlicensed Telecom Operators are deemed illegal if they’re not registered to operate in Jamaica or terminate Voice or Data Connections in Jamaica, grounds for any accusation of Bypass. The Telecommunications Act of 2012, while not specifically referring to VoIP, does give the Telecom Providers Leeway to deal with any activity deemed as Bypass. So this isn’t censorship; this is a case of a freeloader that’s refusing to pay for the Right to Terminate Voice Call on Digicel and LIME’s Telecom Networks.
Censorship involves persons denying you your freedom of speech as given to you under Section Three of the Constitution as it relates to Rights and Freedoms and the UNCHR (United Nation Charter of Human Rights) that was recently implemented as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Digicel and LIME are FDI and are not State-Run entities.
Thus it cannot be legally construed as an attempt by the State to suppress the Personal freedoms of Jamaicans under Section Three of the Constitution as it relates to Rights and Freedoms and the recently implemented as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Neither is Digicel or LIME preventing Jamaican citizens from protesting against a State injustice or State oppression. We’re not at War against a Foreign invading country and we’re not a Banana Republic that has a dictatorial Government that controls the Telecom Providers. Thus it stands to reason via Natural Law as well as the above prima facie that their blockade is purely for financial reasons, not an attempt to oppress members of the State.
So this isn’t censorship, as some in the Tech spheres and the JLP have said, in their bid to sway public opinion and win votes in the upcoming Local Government Elections; this is akin to going through a Gas Station and taking Free Gas for your Motor Vehicle WITHOUT paying the require Toll fee, plain and simple.
Network Neutrality arguments are pointless if the persons using such Network Neutral Services are in effect, breaking the Law. Argueing for Network Neutrality is equivalent to saying that because Marijuana is free in say, Colorado, all uses of the substance are legal.
That’s not the case actually; only registered growers of Marijuana are allowed to grow, buy, sell and Trade in Marijuana. If your caught in possession of Marijuana without a Grower’s License, you can still be arrested as an ILLEGAL Drug Trafficker, as you have no right to be freeloading off the product yet you have no license to possess or grow it in the first place.
Plus, a quick gander at LIME and Digicel Data Plans indicate that they have ALWAYS had restrictions in place for certain types of Data Traffic, with preset limits in their various Tiered Data Plans for their 3G Networks. VoIP can be seen effectively as Duplex Uploading Downloading of Voice and Data. Since that was always the case, why didn’t those complaining now about the blockage complain way back then? Why the strident protests now that VoIP has been blocked, albeit it’s working in some cases Viber appears to be working thanks to persons upgrading their Viber App?
I think this is really a case of callous Greed on the part of Jamaicans; an unwillingness to spend money and purchase Credit to pay for Voice Calling, both Local and International, on the premise that they’re being robbed by Digicel and LIME. So many Jamaicnas reason, then, that to rob Digicel and LIME via this alowed loophole is fair game.
This despite the fact that both Telecom Providers have graciously agreed to the OUR MTR (Mobile Termination Rates) which are as low as JA$1.99 Cross Network as stipulated on Monday July 1st 2013 as explained in Digicel’s New Rates make Credit Last longer despite no Postpaid Options announced.
So their actions, both in the eyes of Blind Justice and Natural Law, can be deemed as being fair in the sight of both God and Man.
Digicel in Trinidad and Tobago – Trinidad has a Telecom Regulator, Jamaica doesn’t
To this end, Telecoms Providers are in the right when it comes to Jamaica. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, their Telecoms Act also gives them the same power to terminate Calls perceived as Bypass, as both Telecoms Acts in both countries were modeled of the American and European Telecommunications Legislation as well as based on rules as laid down by the UN ITU (United Nations International Telecommunications Union).
The reason why Digicel is complying in the case of Trinidad and Tobago is because that country has an established Telecoms Regulator, TATT (Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago), which had caught wind of the situation from early and had acted accordingly. In short, TATT has manners; it didn’t use a Big Stick approach, merely sending a proper communiqué to their Senior Management opening the channel for Dialogue in a non-threatening, peaceful Manner.
Diplomacy 101 folks: You catch flies better with Honey than with Vinegar!
TATT issued a request to Digicel, which is best reproduced in this excerpt from their Press Release, quote: “The Authority requests that Digicel consider its position in relation to the provision of acCess to consumers such that all consumers in Trinidad and Tobago are treated equally in the interim period. Whilst the Authority has made no determination or decision in the matter, we believe that the maintenance of the provision of these services in the interim period would be in the best interest of all stakeholders and would allow the Authority time to engage in this proCess in a calm and constructive manner”.
Digicel’s response to the statement was immediate and terse, respecting the request by TATT while still maintaining their right to block VoIP Traffic as per the relevant Telecommunications Legislation in Trinidad and Tobago, quotes: “Digicel notes the request made by the Authority that Digicel continues to provide such number-based VOIP products whilst this proCess is on-going. Digicel has considered the Authority’s request and welcomes the tone and spirit in which it was made. Digicel is willing, in light of the Authority’s commitment to carefully review these matters in consultation with the industry, to accede–effective July 09–to the Authority’s request in the interim period whilst preserving its rights in relation to the matter generally”.
But there’s another reason too that’s been hidden by the Traditional Media: The Ministry of Science, Technology Energy and Mining’s USF (Universal Service Fund), Telecoms Tax and the E-Learning Projects. In Trinidad and Tobago, Digicel is under no such pressure to pay over Telecoms Taxes or a Cess towards any fund set aside for any Educational Purposes….as they have Oil!
VoIP and Digicel – How VoIP reduces Telecoms Tax, Cess and affects the E-Learning II Project
Earlier in April 2014, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, at the opening of the McGregor Gardens Community Cyber Vision Café in Kingston last Wednesday April 23rd 2014 had stated this his Ministry would be taking strong action against Telecom Providers and anyone involved in Bypass, quote: “We are going to be putting in place the technology to audit and to catch them and to terminate those services that they are offering”.
This as International Calling Bypass was robbing the Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining of their Telecoms Tax imposed in June 2012 and Cess or USF Levy as stipulated by the Telecom Providers BTA (Bilateral Trade Agreement) and the Telecommunications Act of 2012. The USF Levy is administered since 2005 as follows on all International Calls:
- US$0.03 per minute on inbound international calls terminated on fixed lines
- US$0.02 per minute on calls terminated on mobile lines in Jamaica
The USF (Universal Service Fund), which used to be called the UAFCL (Universal AcCess Fund Company Limited), is a mandatory Levy that’s collected to set up the Internet Cafes or Internet AcCess, called CAP (Community AcCess Points) in the following facilities to benefit the society:
- Secondary schools
- Post offices
- Community Access Points
It is closely tied to the GOJ (Government of Jamaica) CDF (Community Developement Fund) and is source of funds being used to provide:
- Internet Cafes are actually a part of E-Learning Project I which sees LIME and FLOW providing Internet access to some 300 schools islandwide
- JA$800 million E-Learning Project II to give students JA$5000 Tablets
Trinidad and Tobago has a similar Cess for Education and Internet Access. But theirs is taken from their Oil Revenues, their biggest Money earner, not from Telecoms. Thus TATT merely sees this as a trade dispute relating to the provision of a Service or lack thereof to be resolved amicably outside of CARICOM and the WTO (World Trade Organization). In Jamaica, the OUR (Office of the Utilities Regulation) is the interim Telecom Regulator until the new one comes on stream later, hopefully before the end of 2014.
In the case of Haiti their International Calling Rates of US$23.00 Is due to a JA$5.50 Cess that is collected by Digicel Haiti on behalf of the Haitian Government to help in their rebuilding efforts and are handed over to the Haitian Government as explained in How to set up an International Calling Plan for Digicel or LIME Prepaid and Postpaid.
Thus the endgame is clear in Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica; Haiti Telecom Regulator (if they have one), TATT and OUR will consider this and other facts and rule in favour of the Telecom Providers. What they’ll impose is the following:
- VoIP Providers will agree to cease and desist all Bypass activities after the reality of the Telecoms Industry in the respective territories is explained to them
- VoIP Providers have to enter Jamaica and sign BTA with the Government, thus becoming Licensed VoIP Operators
- VoIP Providers will have to make arrangements to pay over the money owed to Digicel, LIME and FLOW
- VoIP Providers will have to charge their customers at a similar or lower rate as OUR’s MTR (Mobile Termination Rate) or JA$1.99 to all Networks
Good to note here that the GOJ’s hands are tied. With limited financial resources, allowing the Telecom Providers to get the VoIP Providers regularized is a good strategy, as it means that their Telecom Tax Revenue and USF Levy will continue to flow, funding their many CAP and CDF Projects.
Network Neutrality arguments be damned, as the approach of the VoIP Operators to the overtures of the Telecom Providers has been illegal at best and un-diplomatic and disrespectful to the sovereignty of Haiti, Trinidad and Jamaica’s Telecommunications Industry. All in a Bid to make a free buck from Venture Capitalist money and advertising revenue used to set up their VoIP operations!
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